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Open Source

The Past, Present, and Future of OSS 150

CowboyNeal writes "The nature of the open source movement and its software over the years has changed considerably. From its humble beginnings in the early 80s to mainstream Android adoption, open source software along with computers and technology as a whole has gone from the sidelines to a prevalent position in the lives of modern consumers." Read below for the rest of what CowboyNeal has to say.
The open source movement that we know today has its roots in both academia and hobbyists dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. Before even the founding of the FSF, public domain software was available in abundance. Software packages of all sorts were freely given away or sold for the cost of copying them. It's important to note that a given piece of public domain software may or may not have come with its source code, so while it was free in the cost sense, it wasn't yet strictly free in the freedom sense. The early versions of Bell Labs Unix included the source code, which users could use to modify and extend the OS. In 1978, Bill Joy, then a graduate student at Berkeley, released the first Berkeley Software Distribution, or BSD. Rather than a complete OS, BSD was an add-on to V6 Unix. BSD would grow over the years that followed to become a nearly complete operating system. In 1983, Richard Stallman at MIT began the GNU project, to develop a free software version of Unix. By 1985, the GNU version of Emacs had its first release, and in 1987, the GNU C Compiler would follow. As parts of a possible GNU system began to coalesce, soon all that was missing was a kernel.

Both BSD and the GNU project would continue on through the early 1990s, when new catalysts for change were introduced. The release of a new BSD aimed at desktop and consumer hardware, 386BSD, was held up in courts by AT&T. Also around this time a Finnish student, Linus Torvalds, would release his first operating system kernel called Linux, in 1991. By 1992, Linux would adopt the GNU Public License, and be distributed with the userland that GNU had built. Since the GNU system was nearly complete but lacked a kernel, it was a natural pairing. Also in 1992, the BSD legal case would finally be resolved, and the parts of BSD that weren't written by AT&T were released to the public, and while it was short-lived, it became the basis for NetBSD and FreeBSD, and other BSD-based operating systems. Though In 1993, an event far bigger than just the world of software hackers took place. For the first time, private individuals could acquire access to the Internet. No longer did someone have to be affiliated with a government or educational institution to get onto the Internet. This rapid influx of enthusiasts provided new manpower for both Linux and BSD projects.

In 1995, the Apache Project would make its first release, based on the source code of NCSA HTTPd, which was nearly ubiquitous as the web server used to power the Internet. Over the years, the NCSA code would be slowly rewritten, and Apache would take over NCSA HTTPd's position as the predominant web server.

By 1998, the open source movement had rapidly grown, but hadn't yet been named as such. In early 1998, Netscape announced that they would release the source code for their flagship product, Navigator. In response to this as well as the growing popularity of Linux and BSD operating systems, the term "open source" was coined and later the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was founded by Bruce Perens and Eric S. Raymond. The OSI was founded as an organization for education and advocacy, and was inclusive of GPL, BSD, and other "open source compatible" licensed software, such as the Apache Web Server and XFree86 windowing system.

From here it seemed that the sky was the limit for open source software. Over the next few years, Linux would become the de facto server software for many organizations. While desktop market share eluded Linux outside of the hobbyist and enthusiast circles, its place in the data center would be securely cemented. In 2003, a then-little-known-of company called Android, Inc. was formed and began working on software for mobile phones. Before releasing anything, they were acquired by Google in 2005 and set to work on a mobile device platform powered by Linux. In 2007, Google and many other hardware and software companies announced the Open Handset Alliance, and unveiled the Android operating system, which was built on the Linux kernel. A year later in 2008, the first Android device would ship, and by 2010, Google would begin selling their own phones, after partnering with other manufacturers.

By 2008, another odd turn of events would happen. Microsoft was long an enemy of open source and free software, seeing them as potential competitors to its proprietary systems. Soon even the giant of the proprietary software world, would begin to utilize open source software licenses. Microsoft would go so far as to use open source software as part of Windows Azure, and eventually even donate code to the Samba project.

While Linux hasn't taken over desktops in droves here in the states, the same can't be said overseas. Traffic estimates to SourceForge consistently place domestic traffic in only the 15-20% range, meaning that anywhere from 80-85% of the downloads are going overseas, where open source is an easier sell, given the prohibitive cost of a proprietary operating system. However, given the lack of actual sales figures, it's difficult to pin down how widespread open software usage actually is. One place that Linux has won big stateside, in the form of Android, is the mobile phone market, where Android now powers 52% of the smartphones domestically, and 68% of the smartphones in the entire world. 2012 saw another milestone for Linux, when Red Hat, Inc. became the first Linux company to boast of a billion dollars of revenue within a single fiscal year.

It's still difficult to predict what the future holds for open source software. With the advent of programs such as One Laptop per Child (OLPC), which has put Linux-based laptops into the hands of nearly 2 million children, a new generation of children are being raised on open source software overseas. Government adoption of open source software is as it is in other sectors, where Linux has a foothold on the server, but hasn't made significant strides into end user territory yet. That looks to be changing somewhat, with recent movements in Jordan and France, but the change is still slow in happening.
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The Past, Present, and Future of OSS

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  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @07:45PM (#41800015) Homepage

    I thought it was the year the Desktop died. Isn't that what Windows 8 is trying to do?

    Well if you include making it depressed and suicidal, I'd have to agree. Otherwise I'd say Apple is doing most of the killing.

  • by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @08:00PM (#41800091)
    I was expecting to find some content of interest to slashdotters, not just a rehash of some historical factoid. Where did News for Nerds go? North? Was this a book report that Cowboy Neal was assigned? Is this posting the reason that Cowboy Neal and the obligatory option has been absent from the polls?


    Could Cowboy Neal answer why he's missing from the polls? Anyway, about the future of OSS, OSS as a paradigm will continue to exist. Open source as "existing available source code, available openly" existed pre-GNU, pre-Stallman. There is so much conflation of free software, open source, OSS, and GNU licensing that even this summary article had a few swings and misses.

    It's possible for people to be a powerset (2**{whatever number of options}) of all of these different overlapping and some mutually-exclusive definitions of open source software (lowercase, like lowercase god). That would be a good poll: open source software to me means:... x, y, z, Cowboy Neal.

  • F/OSS will lose (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @08:07PM (#41800117)

    We're already witnessing the twilight of the entire F/OSS movement, unless people wake up and realize that all the gains of the last few decades will be lost if

    * first to file supersedes first to invent
    * free access to computing hardware is circumvented by cryptography
    * cloud computing services, built on free software, because they aren't distributing binary code, aren't bound to abide by the same ethical obligations as traditional software vendors.

    The forces allied against F/OSS are legion, and powerful. They will do their damnedest to bury F/OSS, because it threatens their survival. F/OSS advocates often act as if their their own survival is a given. Nothing can stop the tide. Think again. Who's fighting the good fight? Richard. What does he get for his pains? He's the constant butt of jokes around here.

    As with most things in life, you'll reap what you sow. If you don't give a shit, fine, live in ignorance and let other people dictate the conditions of your life. If you do care, then get off your ass and wake the fuck up. You are losing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @08:20PM (#41800191)
    And yet odds are you posted that with a browser based on an open source engine. On a website that uses open source software. Your connection to the internet most likely depends on an open source stack. Most smart phones are based on open source software. If you use GPS... well you get the idea.
  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @08:33PM (#41800259) Homepage Journal
    The issue is that it is not really economical to put together a computer from scratch, adding OS later, even if the OS if basically free. When the first personal computers came out, the IBM and the Apple , these were tightly integrated systems that the use could turn on, put some software on, and then use. The IBM used a new software, MS DOS, because it could not get a deal to use CP/M, the predominate software of the day. But MS was made to run on one computer, just like Apple. CP/M, which could run across processors, lost out.

    For a short time, after Compaq reversed engineered the IBM BIOS and cheap components because available, it was cheap to buidl your own, but that was only because the markup on IBM and Compaq machines were very high and MS liscensing was very liberal. But you still had limited hardware. When MS cracked down on licensing, charging huge prices for single purchases, and subsidizing the OEM machine in exchange for exclusivity, that time ended.

    Which is to say we are not going to see a fully open source desktop anytime soon. Consumers want a unified experience that can only come form a corporate design. That is MS, Apple, Google. Users expect the hardware to be subsidized, and is not going to pay the full price up front for a sophisticated piece of hardware. This was the problem with the original mac and newton. The hardware was expensive, almost no one had a GPU, not that sophisticated a BIOS, but was too expensive.

    That said, increasing parts of the OS an user experience are open source. Of course MS has little OSS in it's operating system, and that may leave a path open for some entrepreneur to create a MS compatible system with an OSS core. Of course since people who use MS products think everything should be free, it seems that as soon as an OSS core is out there, there will be few takers to pay for it since MS is 'free' with purchase of a computer.

    Which leves that application and utility software. OSS has had an effect we see on software prices. OSS software is available and widely used by those that don't get MS for free through corporate or pirate channels. In fact, IMHO, the best way to push OSS is to let the anti-pirated software people win. If software piracy is really no longer possible, then MS is either going to have to cave in pricing, or face the fate of DVD, Bluray and Blockbuster.

  • by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @09:34PM (#41800561)
    Yep, and Google is also a great copyright violator in copying and storing books in electronic format without adequate permission. And it uses its 800-ton Gorilla status to send its lawyer-filled-legal minions to court to try to win itself the free and solitary right to side-step copyright issues in any and all books that exist in libraries that have signed on for this corrupt mis-appropriation of private products in book and illustration form. Even the storage of this data at Google violates copyright even if they do not re-distribute it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:15PM (#41800735)

    Slashdot jumped the shark tonight

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot@w o r f . n et> on Monday October 29, 2012 @01:09AM (#41801461)

    Use of the viral and restrictive GPL is falling dramatically and truly free licensing like BSD is on the rise. Fading away are the days of the open source world being dominated by 15 years screaming about 'possibly GPL violation!!!' on Slashdot.

    One of the major ironies is how closed the GPL can be.

    Take some BSD code and stick it into a GPL project. Perfectly legal (assuming it's modified BSD - there's still a lot of original BSD licensed code out there).

    Now improve on that GPL'd code - fix a bug say.

    Now the GPL guys will scream about the superiority of the GPL and how "open" it is, except they've just closed the patch! There's no way for the BSD guys to get that code back in because the code has been GPL-tainted, and is thus unavailable to be pulled back in to fix the bug. (And it's legally questionable if they could look at the GPL patch to figure out how to fix it).

    Of course, the original authors are fine with what happened in the beginning - it's BSD and they agreed to it. However, the whole unable-to-get-at-shared-code probably irks them to no end - they know there's a fix, but they can't incorporate it because of the GPL.

    At the same time, people are screaming in their ears about how BSD lets some company "steal" their code and close it up compared to the superior GPL, when the supposedly open GPL has done exactly that. Perhaps even worse, at least if the code was closed by some company, it's a case of ignorance - if the company doesn't say, no one knows. The GPL project openly flaunts that code back at the BSD folk - like a flag showing how superior the GPL is.

  • by mathew42 ( 2475458 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @01:36AM (#41801543)

    Everywhere that open source is succeeding is thanks to BSD licensed software:

    * BSD based Chrome over the GPL based Mozilla

    * Partially BSD based OS X on the desktop over the clusterfuck of GPL Linux desktops

    * BSD based(outside the kernel) Android dominating the cellphone market over the effectively dead GPL based Linux cellphone efforts

    It depends on your motivation for writing the code. If I want to write some code, have some else make some "cosmetic" changes then charge me for that code, well sure BSD is an appropriate license. However if I want that code (including modifications) to remain free then the GPL is a more appropriate license.

    If Android was 100% open source then people would be easily able to upgrade their firmware to the latest Android version instead of being left with third party firmware that hacks binary blobs. However it should be noted that the same issue exists with Nokia's maemo / meego phones.

    tlhIngan used the example of incorporating BSD code into GPL code. How is this better or worse than a company doing the same but inside commercial a code base where it never sees the light of day?

  • by nsharifi ( 2761671 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @02:15AM (#41801661)
    The free and open source software world becomes more business oriented. This among other facts implies 1) more businesses/companies involvement; 2) adoption of permissive licenses (e.g. MIT License, Apache License) and hence integration of free software with proprietary counterparts; and 3) loosely-woven P2P software engineering practices. While the hobbyist and enthusiast culture of development will continue to exist, it is going to be controlled by companies and organizations.
  • by peppepz ( 1311345 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @02:23AM (#41801685)
    GPL-based Mozilla? "Partially BSD based" OS X? You're climbing mirrors.

    Mozilla's license is closer to the BSD ones than to the GPL. Chrome is closed source, not BSD.

    OS X is mostly closed source, too, although the core kernel (with no drivers) is BSD-licensed the source they release doesn't even boot on any existing machine so I'd hardly consider it an example of a "mature open source development".

    Since you're quickly writing off Android's kernel in order to depict the whole product as "BSD based", I wonder how come Google haven't replaced the kernel with a BSD one, given their continued love for the BSD license. Could it be that what you relegated between parentheses is more important than you would make us believe? By the way, ask Android users how happy they are every time a new Android release is out and they cannot install it on their phones because their manufacturers violated (at least the letter of) the GPL and stuffed their kernels with binary blobs. So much for the "restrictive" licensing.

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @06:30AM (#41802445) Journal

    One of the major ironies is how closed the GPL can be.

    This is a major WTF. From you.

    It's astonishing that anyone can believe the GPL is "really closed".

    It honestly makes you sound like an entitled whiner. Oe noes! I can't use someone's code for free!!

    It's zero cost. You can look at the code. You can compile the code. You can modify the code. You can modify it any way you choose. You can give it to anyone you want. You can modify it then give it to anyone you want. You can wrap it up in pretty paper and sell it if you so choose.

    The only way that's "really closed" is the same way that you're "on crack".

    blah BSD blah

    That's explicitly what the BSD license allwos: taking the code and not giving back. Except in the GPL case it's still out there for anyone to use.

    And there's nothing legally questionable about looking at a copyright work, then coming up with something inspired by it. It there was then every book and film out there would be a copyright violation.

    However, the whole unable-to-get-at-shared-code probably irks them to no end - they know there's a fix, but they can't incorporate it because of the GPL.

    Why does it irk them any more than a fix being in a proprietary product?

    At the same time, people are screaming in their ears about how BSD lets some company "steal" their code and close

    Sure, it's fun to make stuff up.

    o the superior GPL, when the supposedly open GPL has done exactly that.

    Except it's not closed. It's still out there for anyone to look at. The BSD guys can go back, look at the code and see where the bug was and fix it. It's like a bug report on steroids. They can't copy the code wholesale (unless they relicense their part, in which case they can), but they can get all the tiny details and make an equivalent fix.

    The GPL project openly flaunts that code back at the BSD folk - like a flag showing how superior the GPL is.

    You are way paranoid.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @07:21AM (#41802605)

    The spend millions each year on the google summer of code.

  • All y'all with long replies need to just use the short reply for this that you use every time this argument comes along. We think that open source produces more failures because we get to see all of them. Closed source hides its failures that never see the light of day, because only a few engineers know they ever existed, and few if any people give a fuck so it's not really great conversation fodder.

Don't get suckered in by the comments -- they can be terribly misleading. Debug only code. -- Dave Storer